College Post (Now With Even More Boring Angst!)

It’s time to choose my classes for the spring 2007 term, and I could hardly be more confused.

I’m going to try to go full time. Will that mean I have to cut my writing back to a trickle, and become a real college student at last? That will mean loans: investing thousands of dollars in  myself that my future self will have to repay. It’s not a game, taking loans; it’s big money and a big gamble that may or may not pay off as anticipated. I’m a home-owning, lawn-mowing, pet-having adult, and I don’t take giving up my work identity and taking on loans lightly. (I take it very heavily.)

What classes do I take? I’m currently a chemistry major, but lately as I find more peace with my relatively limited math ability, I wonder if I shouldn’t return to my first love, physics. I only took chemistry classes because they were requirements within a physics major, but quite unexpectedly I ended up loving the subject. So do I take classes from the chemistry core or the physics core? I’m far enough along that they’re starting to diverge… Even though I don’t yet have enough information to make a decision, I must soon decide.

And if I’m going to go to college full-time, do I load up on easy classes for my first semester as an FT student? Won’t that make it harder for me in the long run, to greedily gobble up all my easy liberal-arts reqs in one breezy semester?

And what about electives? It occurs to me that most students typically take a load of about 3/4 core classes and 1/4 electives. But I think I’ve burned up all my electives with bad decisions. I had two aborted attempts at a college career in the early 90s, when I was young and utterly clueless. And even just a few years ago I didn’t understand college requirements, and at the community college took classes that ended up transferring, sure, but not being part of my requirements at UNCA. The result of all this is the typical confused community college student’s curse — a good 40 or so college credits from three different schools (taken over a year of study — two years of actual study time for a working college student) that serve no purpose other than to rob me of having any electives to use to study something I actually feel passionate about or interested in. And to add a 20% surcharge to my state-college tuition once I reach a certain number of credits.

For a long time I’ve felt like all I can take is core classes: all science, all math, all the time. I assumed that my electives were lost in a misspent youth and misguided community college choices.

But lately it occurs to me that I only think that way because I want to save money, to avoid the damn 20% surcharge. It occurs to me that it might be best to just pay the surcharge and deal, and let myself play around in electives just like all the other kids do. I’m not here just to receive a degree. I’m here to learn and have fun, to follow my mind as it plays around in the garden that is the universe of learning.

I can frog-march myself to graduation to the brutal drumbeat of MATH SCIENCE MATH SCIENCE MATH SCIENCE MATH only so long. I deserve to take a breather in the meadows and lie in the sun. History of Math, Two-Dimensional Design, Intro to Photography, The Arts and Crafts Movement, The Faust Legend, Music Theory, German I, Meditation, Intro to Creative Writing, Chorus, Philosophy of Science…

So here I am understanding things better as I write them down. Right now, in real time. Here I am thinking that I need to accept that yes, I screwed myself over by being a stupid kid and by very, very foolishly never finding out exactly what would transfer to UNCA within my major. But you know, all that is all over and done with, the foolishness of both youth and adulthood, and the mistakes have been made. I think I need to focus less on “correcting” them than on allowing myself to enjoy my studies and to find my time in college pleasurable and mind-expanding. Because right now, let me tell you — college feels like drudgery, pure and simple, even despite a truly marvelous math professor.

Which brings me to a realization that I had last night. What am I doing studying math and science? I’m a writer.  Why am I not studying journalism, communications, or literature?

From the start of my education in the sciences people have asked me that question. I wonder now at my own defense of my choices. At first I considered a career in the sciences, but encounters with reality changed that. It saddens me hugely, but as much as I am fascinated by topology and high-energy particle physics, these fields each require a level of math skill I don’t possess. I am an ill-made creature in this regard, made to love a thing I can neither possess nor understand. I couldn’t acquire enough knowledge in these areas even to teach, much less publish or synthesize.

So then I thought I’d be a science writer of some sort — a scriptwriter in the field of scientific visualization, a science-popularizer of some sort like my hero. But if I want to do that, shouldn’t I focus on my writing abilities? Shouldn’t I be seeking a degree in Mass Communications?

I think my answer is no. I believe that some people, and I consider myself one of them, have sufficient innate writing ability (combined nicely with years of paid writing experience) such that this step isn’t necessary. I do believe that good writers are born and not made (though there’s no substitute for years of paid writing experience and editorial feedback). I have a portfolio, I have several years of experience… A degree in this area would not be a journey I’d take for the passion and pleasure of taking it.

If I want to impress someone out to hire a writer, I want it to be by being the writer who combines artful and powerful writing with a legitimate science education in the hardcore crunchy shit that I LOVE, like chemistry and physics and higher math. I know I’m not like most other writers here, and in this case I think that different is good. I will happily accept the title of Science Geek/Writer. (Dear GOD will I ever take that.) So while I can’t explore topology and high-energy particle physics in the way I’d most like, I can understand and even reverence them my way — with the written word.

OK, amazing. I have solved a week’s worth of angst by sitting down and telling it all out like a story. Thank you, writing gods. I’m glad you picked me. I think I would’ve picked you, and maybe in some way I did. It’s true that I’m science’s bitch (and math’s sad little incubus), but I am your servant as well, and I hope that at some point we can all figure my life out. Together.

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